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Thomas MORLEY (1557/8-1602)
Ayres and Madrigals: Arise, awake [2:18]; Besides a fountain [2:04]; No, no, no, no, Nigella [3:00]; Singing alone [2:51]; With my love [2:10]; Mistress mine [2:33]; Stay heart, run not so fast [2:39]; Fire and lightening [1:10]; Phillis, I fain would die now [4:21]; Hard by a crystal fountain [3:37]; In every place [2:23]; O gried, evín on the bud [1:55]; Absence, hear thou my protestation [6:07]; Deep lamenting [3:21]; Sleep, slumbíring eyes [6:05]; Hark, Alleluia [2:06]
Emma Kirkby, Poppy Holden, Jacqueline Fox, Evelyn Tubb, sopranos
Cathy Cass, Mary Nichols, altos
Joseph Cornwell, Andrew King, Philip Salmon, tenors
John Milne, Francis Steele, Richard Wistreich, basses
The Consort of Musicke, Anthony Rooley, lute and director
Recorded in St. Barnabasí Church, London, June 1982 DDD
DECCA 476 1971 [49:19]

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If there is a perfect form of vocal music, it is the madrigal. If there is a perfect ensemble to sing it, it is the Consort of Musicke. Although there have been dozens of fine choirs and ensembles that have performed and recorded this repertoire over the years, not one of them can match the esprit, vocal quality and sensitivity to the declamation of texts that Mr. Rooley and his merry band of fine soloists have achieved.

About Thomas Morley, despite his fame as a composer, is precious little known. He was born in or around 1557, and was educated at Oxford, earning a B.Mus. degree there in 1588. Even before his collegiate training though, his abilities were evident from his appointment as master of the choristers in Norwich in 1583. By 1591, he was organist at St. Paulís Cathedral in London, and was made a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal the following year, a post he retained until his death.

He was a student of William Byrd, and like his famous teacher, also composed works for the church, for various instrumental consorts and for the keyboard. A musician of wide reaching influence, he published, edited and printed many volumes of music, and was the author of a well-respected treatise, "A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke," in which he explains the rules of contemporary musical practice through a clever dialogue between master and pupil. An enterprising businessman, he sought and obtained a monopoly on the printing of music in 1596.

The English Madrigal is an import of sorts, coming across the continent to Britain from Italy. The English, however, made the genre their very own, and despite the relatively brief era in which the madrigal was in fashion, left behind a wealth of musical treasures in the form. Morley, who was perhaps not the finest of the English madrigalists, certainly contributed to the genreís popularity through his publications. One of the most important of these is the Triumphes of Oriana, published in 1601 as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth I. Each of the twenty-five madrigals in the book ends with the refrain "Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana, long live faire Oriana!" This collection contains some of the finest examples of the colorful text settings and delicious vocal harmonies and counterpoint that were the hallmark of the form.

The recording at hand, now over twenty years old, is as fresh and wonderful as the day it was born. The blend of vocal timbres is as near perfect as could be hoped for anywhere. Rooley cleverly chooses a variety of voicings and tempi to make a same-style compilation come alive with variety and color.

Of particular merit are Hard by a crystal fountain, from the Oriana collection, the achingly sad O grief, evín on the bud and the splendid motet, Hark, Alleluia written in tribute to Henry Noel.

Flawless ensemble and intonation are the trademarks of this group, and they certainly do not disappoint here. The solo aires are delivered with color, grace and a wonderful sensitivity to the poetry. Rhythmic precision and clarity of the texts are above reproach. This is such refreshing music, that it is a gift indeed for these performances to be again available.

Program notes by Sally Dunkley are superb, and production values and sound quality are of the first order. Recommended without a momentís hesitation.

Kevin Sutton


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